Arts Management Students Aid Dallas Cultural Policy

Students provide input on city’s far-reaching Dallas Cultural Plan

Six priorities. Hundreds of meetings and workshops. Over 9,000 participants. At stake: the future of Dallas arts and culture.

Twenty graduate students from SMU Meadows’ M.A./M.B.A. and M.M. in International Arts Management programs were among thousands of citizens who pitched in to help the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs fine-tune the Dallas Cultural Plan, which has over 100 initiatives and strategies for Dallas arts and culture in the next seven to 10 years. At its core, the Plan envisions a more equitable, sustainable and diverse arts and cultural environment for the city, one that stretches beyond the well-established downtown Arts District.

The 20 students in Dr. Alex Turrini’s Cultural Policy class—many of whom already have considerable experience interning or working for cultural organizations across the U.S. and overseas—joined the discussions during a September 10 workshop held at Moody Performance Hall, located in Dallas’ Arts District, the largest contiguous arts district in the nation.

“Participation in the Dallas Cultural Plan was a great opportunity to learn, gain insights and enhance my understanding of the concepts/frameworks that we learned in class,” says student Boski Sharma.

At the workshop, Sharma and her classmates learned that the last plan was created in 2002. “Dallas is a very different city now with evolving needs,” says Sharma, “and it requires an updated plan with a coordinated vision to set the direction for arts and culture growth.”

The classmates participated in discussions about the Plan’s six key priorities: equity, diversity, space, artist support, a sustainable arts ecosystem, and communications.

“I instantly connected with the two main priorities identified in the plan: equity, and a sustainable arts ecosystem,” says Sharma. “Both of these initiatives are extremely critical to make arts and cultural experiences accessible across boundaries—of geography, disciplines, race or ethnicity—to the wider community and neighborhoods.”

Equity, says Sharma, is the top priority and is seen as the lens through which the rest of the plan will be approached. The sustainable arts ecosystem component, she says, would foster collaboration among organizations “so they can share resources effectively and partner with each other to bring innovative programs to the community. This concept aligns well with the trends in the general economy to create cultural incubators to reduce costs and use technology to develop audiences and provide easy access.”

Student John Tenny says that before the workshop began, the class received an hourlong, in-person introduction from 2015 M.A./M.B.A. alumna Anne Marie Gan, who now serves as operations research analyst for the Office of Cultural Affairs and who served as the day-to-day staff lead on the Plan, guiding creation of an updated Cultural Policy for the city.

“My experience with the Dallas Cultural Plan was overwhelmingly positive,” says Tenny. “I had a great time at the workshop and met some interesting people from the community. Now I better understand how we can improve Dallas. I think Lord Cultural Resources, one of the consulting teams hired by Office of Cultural Affairs, did a wonderful job with the planning and organization and I was very impressed with the number of meetings they organized with community members.”

Tenny believes the ambitious Plan will be a challenge to implement unless its tenets are carefully cultivated. “It is such a turn away from Dallas’ approach to culture and the arts up until this point,” he says. “Making equity the lens through which the other goals will follow sounds like a great plan, but unless it is truly kept in mind at every turn it has the chance of being just an unfulfilled promise.”

Alex TuriniProfessor Turrini, chair of SMU Meadows Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship Division, encourages student participation in real-life efforts that go beyond the classroom.

“Community involvement is active learning,” he says. “In addition to outstanding internship opportunities at national museums and nonprofits, we believe it’s critical to offer this type of hands-on involvement. It broadens their understanding and positions them to enter the field.”

Gan concurs. “My experience in the M.A./M.B.A. program helped by exposing me to real-world experiences like the Cultural Plan workshop,” she says. “Through experiences like this at SMU, I learned how to apply the classroom knowledge to create real, meaningful change in my professional life in the arts.”

Following the workshop, Turrini spoke to the Cultural Affairs Commission about the Dallas Cultural Plan on September 20. To further involve students, he invited them to help prepare the speech; four students responded, and their observations were included in Turrini’s presentation.

“Being part of the workshop and hearing different perspectives from leaders in the arts industry has been a truly invigorating experience,” says Sharma, one of the four student authors of the presentation to the Commission. “Certainly, I feel more prepared and capable of handling cultural policy issues for my class projects as well as in the real world as a future policy maker.”

Gan says the Office of Cultural Affairs was thrilled to have the students participate. “We loved to hear their diverse, international perspectives,” she says. “The students had great questions and ideas, and everyone at the workshop was impressed by their eagerness to dive in!

“We firmly believe that the new Plan and Policy represent the community’s input. Our presentations of the draft Cultural Plan and an updated Cultural Policy have been unanimously recommended by the steering committee and the Cultural Affairs Commission, and we look forward to a vote by the Dallas City Council on November 28.”

Learn more about the M.A./M.B.A. graduate program, a joint offering from SMU Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business.

Learn more about the M.A. in International Arts Management graduate program, a joint offering from SMU Meadows School of the Arts; HEC Montreal; and SDA Bocconi, Milan, Italy.

Learn more about the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs Dallas Cultural Plan.

What’s in the Dallas Cultural Plan?

Over 9,000 Dallas residents have engaged in a process to develop over 100 initiatives and strategies under these six priorities:

  • Equity:Support the broadest range of art forms and creative producers, considering inclusivity, diversity and neighborhood impact to direct resources equitably to artists and organizations.
  • Diversity:Celebrate and promote the diversity of Dallas, while striving to improve diversity of programming, staff and organizational leadership across the cultural sector.
  • Space:Provide, create and incentivize the creation of spaces and places to encourage and allow arts and culture in Dallas to thrive and grow citywide.
  • Support for Artists:Establish a supportive arts ecosystem that nourishes the creative and innovative energy of Dallas artists.
  • Sustainable arts ecosystem:Model sustainability to the arts and culture community through Office of Cultural Affairs’ facilities and encourage and support the development of future sustainability in the broader arts and cultural sector.
  • Communications:Promote culture as a fundamental driver of the city of Dallas. Ensure awareness at local, national and international levels of Dallas’ cultural offerings through enhanced communication.

Excerpted from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs Draft of the 2018 Dallas Cultural Plan; accessed September 25, 2018.